From Publishers Weekly
In January 2005, Ricky Rodriguez stabbed a woman to death and then fled the scene of the crime, finally shooting himself in the California desert. Rodriguez was a high-profile ex-member of the Children of God, also called the Family, a controversial hippie cult of the 1970s that had spiraled into aberrant sexual behaviors and other disconcerting practices. Rodriguez was seeking revenge for the sexual abuse that his murder victim and others had committed against him when he was a child (the cult had gone so far as to record its crimes in a bizarre book that glibly described—and provided photographic evidence of—sexual relations between adults and children). Lattin, who covered the religion beat for the San Francisco Chronicle
, offers an arresting if uneven account of the Family. He begins by arguing that the cult is best understood in the context of American evangelicalism, and does some strong investigation into the founder's ancestry to prove this point. But he does not sustain these threads throughout the book, which becomes a typical true crime tale. Some aspects of the Family, like flirty fishing (sacred prostitution), are carefully researched, while others (like a journalistic account of how the cult funded itself so well on a global scale) are underreported. (Oct.)
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Lattin's true-crime story concerns a cult left over from the 1970s boom in disturbing mass religious movements: the Children of God, whose founder, David Brandt Berg (191994), called Moses by devotees, preached an aggressive Christianity that sanctioned consensual heterosexual intercourse between adults, regardless of marital status. Before 1986, however, adult-child heterosexual relations were also approved, and therein lay the motive of Ricky "Davidito" Rodriguez. Raised in the cult, he was the son of second-in-command Karen Zerby and was intended to succeed Berg (hence his nickname). But those plans went awry as Rodriguez came to resent the sex thrust upon him when a child. The favored child turned against his elders most dramatically. In 2005 he murdered those responsible for his abuse and then himself. Lattin's focus becomes a little shaky as his presentation veers between straight reportage and the metaphysics of the cult's messianic thing, but he remains eminently readable. A treasure trove for those curious about aberrant cultic enterprises. Tribby, Mike